Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan 433, April 20, 2003

The Titanic Anniversary - April 15, 1912

These days, almost everybody knows about the sinking of the Titanic, the world's largest ship at the time, with its tragic loss of life.  However, there are lots of additional items of interest associated with the story of the Titanic, including the usage of spark gap wireless equipment.  It is now 91 years since these events took place.

We go back to the year 1898, the year in which the almost unknown American author Morgan Robertson published a novel under the title, "Futility." It was the story of a huge new British passenger liner with the name "Titan." On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, the "Titan" hit an iceberg at midnight one night in April way off the coast of Newfoundland with a massive loss of life, 3,000 people.  That old novel about the fictitious ship, the "Titan," was almost a prediction of what happened to the "Titanic" just 14 years later.

Actually, there were three ships in the "Olympic" class of large passenger liners, and these were the Olympic, the Britannic, and the Titanic.  All three of these ships underwent a series of tragedies and strange events.

The Olympic was launched on the same day as the Titanic, October 20, 1910, and it was also described as the largest and safest ship afloat. This ship was involved in several disabling maritime accidents.  It was used as a Canadian troop transport during World War 1, and it was scrapped in 1935. 

Strangely, on November 11, 1929, the Olympic was in the Atlantic above the underwater wreckage of the Titanic when it shook violently for two full minutes.  Later information revealed that this violent shaking was caused by a deep underwater earthquake.  

The White Star liner Britannic was launched in 1914, four years after the twins, Olympic and Titanic.  This new ship, the Britannic, was also ìthe largest and safest ship afloat,î and it was originally designated with the name, "Gigantic." This ship was designed as a passenger liner, but it was quickly converted for use as a hospital ship in the Mediterranean during World War I.

Two years later the Britannic was seriously damaged by a huge explosion, either from a floating mine or by a torpedo from a submarine.  Just 55 minutes later she sank off the coast of an island near Greece.

The Titanic story is so well known.  On her maiden voyage from England to New York, she struck an iceberg around midnight and sank before daylight.

The emergency message in Morse Code, "CQD & SOS from MGY Titanic," was sent by the wireless operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride.   These messages were picked up by several other ships in nearby areas of the Atlantic, and also by shore stations in the United States, including station CC at Cape Cod, and station MHI atop the Wanamaker Store in New York with David Sarnoff as operator.

However, it was the ship Carpathia that rescued more than 800 Titanic survivors from the freezing waters, and it sent out a continuous stream of Morse messages from its wireless transmitter PA.

At times, transmitter PA on the Carpathia was not always audible in New York, and so other ship transmitters began to relay the messages, including the sister ship Britannic and a United States navy vessel, Salem.   In the chaos and cacophony of broadly-tuned Morse Code transmissions, some amateur radio operators began to send out their own spurious messages, all totally false.

The messages in Morse Code from the Carpathia, both direct and by relay from other ships, were intended for interception by only the maritime and newspaper stations in the New York area.  However, so great was the interest in all of this startling information, together with the names of rescued passengers, that anyone who had a wireless receiver and was familiar with Morse Code tuned in to keep abreast of these tragac happenings. 

During the three days of unfolding events in the Atlantic, multitudes flocked to the locations of the various wireless receivers.  Even though these Morse messages were intended as point-to-point transmissions, the very number of listeners at so many different locations almost turned the communication messages into wireless broadcasts.

There were just two people who were employed on all three of these tragic ships, the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Britannic.  John Priest was a fireman on all three ships. 

Then there was Violet Jessop.  She was a stewardess on the Olympic and the Titanic, and a nurse on the Britannic.  When she was getting into the lifeboat in her escape from the sinking Titanic, a baby girl was handed to her.  Many years later, after her retirement, Violet received a phone call from a stranger.  It was from the baby girl, now grown up, whom she had rescued many years earlier from the sinking Titanic.

Goodbye FEBA

It was back in the year 1969, soon after we were transferred from Australia to Pakistan, that I heard the first test broadcasts from the new shortwave station FEBA in the Seychelles Islands off the coast of Africa. Construction work on this new facility began two years earlier, and on October 8, 1969, they made their first test broadcast beamed in the 13 metre band to London in England. The low power signal from FEBA across the ocean often came in strong and clear.

Their first transmitter was a 3 kW communication unit made by Collins and modified for broadcast usage. The antenna was a rotatable log periodic erected at their studio location, which was perched 600 feet above the picturesque coastline two miles south of the capital city, Mahe.

Another temporary transmitter was installed at their transmitter location 2-1/2 miles north of Mahe. This was a 30 kW Press Wireless transmitter, also modified for broadcast usage, and it was activated less than a year later, in June 1970. Both transmitters, 30 kW and 3 kW, were on the air in parallel for a period of several months.

Three years later, their first transmitter at 100 kW was installed. This was a new Harris-Gates unit. Then, in 1982, a second unit at 100 kW was installed. This was a Continental unit, and funding was provided by the Lutheran Church following the nationalization of their shortwave station, ETLF, in Ethiopia. Their third transmitter at 100 kW, made by Harris, was activated in 1989.

Earlier this year, FEBA announced that they planned on closing their shortwave station in the Seychelles due to rising costs and aging equipment. At first no date was given, then it was suggested maybe midyear, and then, a few weeks ago, the closing date was given as the end of March.

I was one of their very first monitors in mainland Asia, and I tuned in to their programming on a regular basis for thousands of hours extending over a period of nearly five years while we served in Pakistan. It is with a tinge of sadness that I report the closing of this station which served Asia and Africa so well. However, 34 years later and with 130 QSLs to prove it, we say goodbye to FEBA Seychelles.

But wait, this is not really the end of the radio history for FEBA. Yes, they have indeed closed their shortwave station in the Seychelles, but they are now on the air from several different relay sites in the Asian and African arena. You can still hear their familiar style of programming, and you can still hear their same tuning signal, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."